‘It’s a mat­ter of safety, dig­nity’

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

Ken­ne­saw State Univer­sity is back­track­ing on a plan to change its on­line class man­age­ment sys­tem to al­low stu­dents to list their pre­ferred pro­noun.

School Pres­i­dent Sam Olens told Ge­or­gia Voice in Fe­bru­ary of his plans to im­ple­ment the change – along with al­low­ing stu­dents to list their pre­ferred name – af­ter com­plaints from the school’s trans­gen­der and gen­der non­con­form­ing stu­dents.

“Sev­eral trans­gen­der stu­dents have told me that if fel­low stu­dents call them by their given name in­stead of their cho­sen name, they get em­bar­rassed and we don’t want that,” Olens said.

Olens then in­structed the school’s chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer to get to work chang­ing the school’s De­sire 2 Learn (D2L) class man­age­ment sys­tem to al­low stu­dents to choose both their pre­ferred name (by this past spring se­mes­ter) and their pre­ferred pro­noun (by this fall se­mes­ter), cit­ing sim­i­lar ac­tions the Univer­sity of Ver­mont took in 2015.

But in a re­cent in­ter­view with the AJC’s Jim Gal­loway, Olens said they changed their minds on the pro­noun op­tion, call­ing it “a sug­ges­tion” and adding that tech­nol­ogy is one rea­son why they’re not go­ing for­ward with it.

When con­tacted by Ge­or­gia Voice to con­firm the school wasn’t go­ing for­ward with the change, of­fi­cials said, “We are com­mit­ted to fully im­ple­ment­ing pre­ferred name and will not be mov­ing for­ward with the pro­noun op­tion.”

When asked as to why, of­fi­cials said, “[We] have noth­ing more to re­port.”

Ge­or­gia Voice reached out to mul­ti­ple LGBT fac­ulty mem­bers and mem­bers of Ken­ne­saw Pride Al­liance, the school’s LGBT stu­dent group, to com­ment on the school’s de­ci­sion, but none would speak on the record. Ken­ne­saw State Univer­sity Pres­i­dent Sam Olens an­nounced a change to the school’s class man­age­ment sys­tem in Fe­bru­ary, but is now back­track­ing. (File photo)

Tracee McDaniel, a trans­gen­der ac­tivist and founder of the Jux­ta­posed Cen­ter for Trans­for­ma­tion, said it was “im­mea­sur­ably im­por­tant” for trans­gen­der and gen­der non­con­form­ing stu­dents to make others aware of their pre­ferred pro­noun on col­lege forms.

“It’s a mat­ter of safety, dig­nity, life or death and be­ing able to suc­cess­fully grad­u­ate with a col­lege de­gree,” she said. “It sounds to me that KSU was hop­ing to ap­pease us by plac­ing a Band-Aid on the prob­lem they have with treat­ing peo­ple with dig­nity and

Olens had been mak­ing some head­way with the school’s LGBT stu­dents and fac­ulty af­ter a rough start when tak­ing of­fice.

The for­mer Ge­or­gia at­tor­ney gen­eral de­fended the state in a law­suit chal­leng­ing its 2004 ban on same-sex mar­riage and last year joined 10 other states in su­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, ar­gu­ing it had no author­ity to di­rect the na­tion’s public school dis­tricts to per­mit stu­dents to use the re­strooms that cor­re­spond with their gen­der iden­tity.

The state Board of Re­gents ap­proved Olens as KSU pres­i­dent last fall, lead­ing to out­cry and protests from many of the school’s LGBT stu­dents, fac­ulty, staff and al­lies. When asked about crit­i­cism of his LGBT record, he re­peat­edly stated he was just do­ing his job as at­tor­ney gen­eral of the state and that that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily re­flect his per­sonal views.

Olens started meet­ing with cam­pus LGBT lead­er­ship to hear their con­cerns, get­ting mixed re­views in the process.

Naya­sia Cole­man, a KSU alum­nus who serves as a staff mem­ber in GLBTIQ Stu­dent Pro­grams and as co-chair of the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mis­sion on GLBTIQ Ini­tia­tives, said Olens had been sup­port­ive and ea­ger to be en­gaged with the cam­pus com­mu­nity.

Aracely Gar­cia, a KSU stu­dent and pres­i­dent of the Ken­ne­saw Pride Al­liance, told Ge­or­gia Voice in Fe­bru­ary she was one of the stu­dents that Olens met with, but said he was con­de­scend­ing and rec­om­mended that he take part in safe space train­ing of­fered through the school’s GLBTIQ Stu­dent Pro­grams.

Nei­ther Cole­man or Gar­cia re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment on the school de­cid­ing not to al­low the pro­noun op­tion.

June 23, 2017

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